SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. -- Affecting patients of all ages, acid reflux can be thought of as an uncomfortable message from our digestive system. The burning, tightness and pain associated with the disorder isn't uncommon -- some of the most prescribed medications today are for reflux -- but repeated, untreated pain has the potential to lead to larger health problems.
"Acid reflux is when stomach contents come up into the esophagus," said Dr. Peter Stein, a gastroenterologist at Phelps Hospital. "That can cause a number of different symptoms such as heartburn, burning feelings in the throat, regurgitation or a sour taste."
Although each case of acid reflux is different, discomfort usually stems from some food transfer issue. "Sometimes the transition of food from the esophagus to the stomach isn't happening correctly, while other people have disorders where the esophagus isn't closing properly," said Stein. However, a clear cause isn't always identifiable, he explained.
With most people, acid reflux is attributed to certain dietary or lifestyle choices, such as eating spicy food or consuming a meal too quickly. However, research has shown these commonly-held beliefs not to be an exact science. "The majority of the time, we don’t clearly identify a cause," said Stein. "We don’t know what is causing those symptoms in most people, and each diagnosis ends up being a unique thing. However, we do have a list of food people should avoid." These include spicy, acidic and fatty foods, as well as acidic or carbonated beverages. "However, we're painting with a very broad brush stroke," said Stein, of these possible restrictions.
For sufferers, relief from acid reflux can be found in a variety of over the counter and prescription medications. Even if pain is moderate and irregular, Stein recommends speaking with a physician to prevent the possibility of further complications, the most serious of which is Barrett’s Esophagus.
"Barrett’s Esophagus is a long-term response to chronic reflux, in which abnormal tissue in the esophagus forms as a response to chronic acid exposure," said Stein. "The problem is this tissue eventually becomes predisposed to cancer development over time." Although a cancer diagnosis isn't certain, the disorder is often difficult to detect and shows minimal side effects. "If symptoms persist, speak with your physician about further treatment," said Stein.
To learn more about the gastroenterological care available at Phelp's Hospital, click here.